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central asia in focus: many problems surround bishkek violence on may 17-18

Central Asia in Focus: Many Problems Surround Bishkek Violence on May 17-18

Author: Bruce Pannier

May 22, 2024

Image source: en.trend.az

In the Region

Many Problems Surround Bishkek Violence on May 17-18

Unrest in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, overnight on May 17-18 highlighted the growing problem of discrimination against South Asians.

The violence also showed Bishkek authorities’ inability to properly assess growing tensions between Kyrgyz and South Asians and the ineffectiveness of police in dealing with a large angry crowd.

During the evening of May 17, hundreds of young Kyrgyz men started gathering in an area of Bishkek where hostels used by foreigners are located.

Police did not act early to break up the growing crowd, despite bans on unsanctioned public meetings in Bishkek.

The Kyrgyz men were angry about video posted early May 17 on social network accounts showing a fight between several Kyrgyz and foreign men on the night of May 13 outside a hostel.

Posts and comments claimed the foreigners, allegedly Egyptians and Pakistanis (it turned out they were all Egyptians), had attacked the Kyrgyz.

People from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India have been targets of complaints about illegal migrants in Kyrgyzstan, though many are in Kyrgyzstan to study.

More than 90 percent of foreign students attending Kyrgyz universities are Indians and Pakistanis who come because tuition and living expenses in Kyrgyzstan are lower than in other countries. Many of them are studying medicine.

Kyrgyzstan’s government has also brought in foreign workers, including from Pakistan, for construction of new government buildings.

On May 17, a crowd of young Kyrgyz men burst into a dormitory of foreign medical students and fighting started.

At least 29 people were injured. One Pakistani required an operation for a broken jaw.

Police from all over the city rushed to the area and surrounded the dormitory.

Bishkek police chief Azamat Toktonaliev arrived, telling the Kyrgyz men to disperse.

The crowd disregarded this order, and it was not until almost dawn that they finally began to leave.

Several posts on social networks in Pakistan falsely claimed three Pakistani students were killed.

Kyrgyz and Pakistani authorities quickly denied this, but Pakistan arranged special flights to bring hundreds of its students back home after the “mob” attacks by “local extremist elements.”

Pakistanis protested outside the Kyrgyz Embassy in Islamabad on May 18.

Why It’s Important: Racism against South Asians has been a problem in Kyrgyzstan for several years.

In August 2021, a former Pakistani student in Bishkek said “we feel in danger” in Bishkek.

Kyrgyz authorities should have worked to head this off years ago,  given that more than 80 ethnic groups live in Kyrgyzstan and there have been incidents of interethnic violence.

The inability of police to force the crowd of hundreds of young men to immediately leave the area is also disturbing, particularly in a country that has seen three revolutions since 2005.

And the role of social media is again under scrutiny.

Going forward, the questions will be: Who posted the four-day old video that sparked the problems on May 17? And why? 

Kazakhstan’s Flood Victims Frustrated at Slow State Response

Residents of the town of Kulsary in Kazakhstan’s northwestern Atyrau Province are demanding the government work faster to provide them with promised compensation.

Kulsary was one of dozens of places in Kazakhstan to be hit by floods that President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev called the worst flooding in 80 years.

About 100 Kulsary residents gathered in the town square on May 2 demanding compensation.

They wanted “400,000 tenge (about $905) per square meter” for their ruined homes and they wanted authorities to give it to them in cash.

The government has promised to pay for repairs and provide compensation for damaged property. 

If a house is recognized as “unsafe,” authorities “will build a house at the expense of the state or buy housing in… Kulsary or any settlement in the Atyrau Province.” 

Kulsary residents were out again on May 15 and 16, still making the same demands.

Atyrau Provincial Governor Serik Shapkenov met with Kulsary demonstrators on May 16 and said it was not possible to meet their demands.

The crowd told Governor Shapkenov that, if he could not help, they wanted President Toqaev to come to Kulsary.

On May 18, Toqaev ordered the government and Atyrau authorities to “ensure public order in strict accordance with the law.”

Reports on May 20 said police were restricting vehicles from entering to Kulsary and internet and mobile phone connections were cut.

Why It’s Important: Flooding started in Kazakhstan in late March and spread around the country, particularly in the west and north.

On May 14, Deputy Prime Minister Kanat Bozumbaev announced 146 people had been evacuated from the flooded village of Taldykol, in Atyrau Province.

Bozumbaev said 120,000 people had so far been evacuated during the flooding and about half had returned to their homes.

The demands of Kulsary residents are likely to be repeated in other parts of Kazakhstan in the coming weeks.

It could raise social tensions if a growing number of townspeople and villagers feel their needs are not being met. 

Majlis Podcast

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at the state of religious freedom in Central Asia.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) just released its annual report on freedom of religion in the world.

It raises some serious concerns about the ability of people in Central Asia to freely and openly practice their religion.

The guests on the podcast are: 

  • Mollie Blum, a researcher at USCIRF who helped compile the data on Central Asia for the report; and 
  • Felix Corley, editor of the Forum 18 News Service that monitors religious freedom in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe. 

What I’m Following

Tajikistan Returns to the Unified Grid

Uzbek Energy Minister Jurabek Mirzamahmudov said on May 15 that Tajikistan would rejoin the Central Asia unified energy grid before the end of the month.

The Central Asia energy grid dates to the 1970s and the Soviet era.

During winters, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan provided mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with coal and natural gas.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan could then allow water to accumulate in their reservoirs for release in spring and summer into rivers that flow into Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan withdrew from the grid in 2003 and when Uzbekistan followed in 2009, it effectively ended use of the grid. 

Left Dry in Arkadag City

Several families in the Ashgabat district of Bezmein had their homes demolished and were forced to relocate to the newly built vanity project city of Arkadag.

Arkadag means “protector” in Turkmen. It is the name the state and media use to refer to former Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

The former Bezmein residents were surprised to find their new homes in this new city, a mere 20 kilometers from Ashgabat, were without plumbing.

Local officials said it is the responsibility of the new homeowners to install the plumbing. 


Fact of the Week

The leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Rahmatullo Zoirov, died on May 18.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.

Feel free to contact me on X, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,

P.S. – If you enjoyed this newsletter and don’t want to miss the next edition, subscribe here.

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